25 Days of Christmas: Day 10 ~ Creating An American Christmas

Christmas in America

Today, when many people think of Christmas, some of their fondest images come directly from the popularity of the holiday that grew throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s. For example, Clement Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (or “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) appeared in 1822, while Francis P. Church’s “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Clause” was published in 1897.

Coca-Cola's Santa ClausImages of Santa Clause were also popping up with regularity, including Thomas Nast’s interpretations in Harper’s magazine from 1863 through the 1890s, and the famous Coca-Cola Santa images between 1930 and 1964. It’s largely from these illusions that we get our present-day image of Santa as either bearded and cloaked, or bearded, red-suited, and jolly.

Today, the Christmas season in the United States starts unofficially with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an even watched by millions of Americans both in person and on television. It begin in New York City in 1924, welcoming Santa Claus onto Macy’s balcony, although he’s been ending his parades at Herald Square ever since. Balloons made their appearance in 1927, and continue to become more colorful and elaborate.

More officially, the White House leads the country in celebrating Christmas, with its annual lighting of the National Christmas Tree and the beginning of the Christmas Pageant of Peace in Washington, D.C. Both serve to brighten the nation’s capital and , indeed, the nation.

The overwhelming sentiment of the American Christmas matched its Victorian English counterpart in its emphasis on family, peace, and goodwill. The excesses of medieval times were left behind, replaced instead by a sense of charity toward those less fortunate and a coming together of family and friends. Today, it can be argued that the American celebration of Christmas that grew gradually stronger through the nineteenth century had done much to influence celebrations around the world.

(Jeffery, Yvonne, “The Everything Family Christmas Book”)

Garland1-1Star Bright

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is one of the most popular songs of all time. The character was created by Robert L. May in 1939 in a free, giveaway poem for Montgomery Ward customers. The story was turned into music and lyrics in 1949 by Johnny Marks and was sung originally by Gene Autry.

 

25 Days of Christmas: Day 9 ~ Christmas In America

American Christmas

Columbus’ 1492 voyage to the New World ended when he ran aground on Christmas Eve, and he and his men were rescued by native peoples. His was, of course, the first of many such expeditions to what would eventually be called the Americas. Later explorers found the inhabitants of these unfamiliar lands engaging in end-of-the-year festivals just as people did back in Europe. Peoples in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska had winter celebrations; a tribe in North Dakota hung gifts on cedar trees.

To understand modern Christmas traditions, however, you need to look toward Europe. The first wave of European settlers to the colonies came from English, Dutch, and Germanic backgrounds. These groups, representing a variety of churches and religious affiliations, organized communities according to the traditions and values of their heritage. Among other religious, cultural, and political differences during the colonial period, was the question of Christmas. In this case, there was scant middle ground; Some were completely for it, some completely opposed.

Outlawing Christmas in America

The celebration of Christmas in early America depended very much on where the settlers had come from in the Old World. Those with traditional English backgrounds tended to recognize the holiday, while the Separatist or Puritan pilgrims brought with them the sentiments of the Protestant Reformation in seventeenth century England: They believed that the day didn’t necessarily reflect Christ’s true birth date, and they disapproved of the excesses involved in its celebration. Excerpts from the diary of Governor Bradford of Plymouth Colony, for example, give a dismal description of Christmas in 1621, describing only work and the discouragement of celebration.

Not surprisingly, the traditions of the English grew even more unpopular after the American Revolution. Christmas had a long way to go in the new United States of America.

Christmas Comes Back

puritan-christmasThe Puritans were not the only group of settlers in early America, however. In Virginia, the Cavaliers (seventeenth-century English royalists) observed Christmas by ringing bells, decorating evergreens, and feasting. Dutch immigrants also arrived in the seventeenth century, along with their Christmas traditions, which included Sinter Klaas. And, of course, settlers from Germany also brought their strong holiday traditions with them.

This steady influx of moderates from overseas brought about the repeal of the anti-Christmas law in 1681, and the first Christmas services were held in Boston Town Hall in 1686. Still, even when it was no longer illegal, Christmas remained a workday in Boston. Although Alabama declared Christmas a legal holiday in 1836, the first state to do so, the same was not done in Boston until 1856, and children there were attending school on Christmas day until 1870.

In the nineteenth century, it seemed that wherever Germans settled in America, they brought Christmas cheer. In Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and elsewhere they kept their love of Christmas alive. In some places they were surrounded by some of the holidays’ staunchest opponents, but they carried on anyway, and gradually gained converts to their merry ways. An infusion of Victorian Christmas spirit that began in the middle of the nineteenth century, coupled with the continued dedication to the holiday by German immigrants and their descendants, brought about the beginning of the Christmas that Americans recognize today.

Another important influence in bringing Christmas to America was author Washington Irving. He introduced St. Nicholas in his 1809 book A History of New York, and followed that up with The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. in 1819, in which his stories about an English manor house Christmas evoked traditional elements of the holiday, including a Lord of Misrule. In Irving’s Christmas writings, peach and generosity ruled, rather than the raucous partying that had so dismayed Puritan leaders and led to the holiday’s banning.

The American South led the way in returning Christmas, with Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas all declaring the day an official holiday in the 1830s. The federal government didn’t follow until 1870. In 1890, Oklahoma – the last contiguous state or territory that did not officially recognize Christmas as a holiday – also changed its mind. The country was now celebrating from sea to shining sea, gradually incorporating customs and traditions from all over the world.

(Jeffery, Yvonne, “The Everything Family Christmas Book”)

Garland1-1Festive Fact

Christmas was officially banned in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681, rolled in together with such frowned-upon activities as gambling. Those who disobeyed the law, and were found celebrating the holiday by feasting or drinking, for example, could be fined five shillings.

Holiday Helper

Hessian troops at Trenton, unwilling to forsake their customary celebrations during the Christmas season of 1776, were taken by surprise by General Washington in one of the turning points of the Revolutionary War. As it happens, Hessians, who came from central Germany, are believed to have been the first to set up a Christmas tree on American soil.

25 Days of Christmas: Day 8 ~ The Victorians

Victorian Christmas

Christmas soon became a special occasion for the Royal Family. Their celebration of it emphasized the importance of family closeness and an appreciation of children, and revived the idea of the holiday mean and holiday decorations.

In 1841, for example, Prince Albert introduced the first Christmas tree to Windsor Castle, setting the stage for the subsequent popularity of Christmas trees in England. Since Victoria and her family enjoyed an astonishing popularity, much of what they did was widely emulated. Newspapers and magazines such as The Illustrated London News provided a hungry audience with chronicles of the royal’s daily activities. Anything seen in the castle, it seemed, was soon copied in homes throughout the country.

As a result, the Victorian Christmas was quaint and warm, highlighted by family togetherness.  It commanded a special spirit, full of kindness and charity. More prevalent than the excesses of the past, was the idea of giving and of concern for others, particularly those less fortunate. As Charles Dickens said, Christmas was “the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”

CharlesDickensCharles Dickens also played a large role in reviving the Christmas spirit in his countrymen. Along with a stinging indictment of the living conditions brought about by the Industrial Revolution, Dickens’ publication of “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 reminded people what they holiday truly meant, and all that it could bring to their lives.

The Christmas card was created during the Victorian Era, and it enjoyed great popularity. So did carols, which got their biggest boost since they had become legal again under Charles II. There was now caroling in church, caroling in homes, and bands of carolers roaming in the streets. Most of the images we have today of outdoor carolers are from these times.

After all that caroling and good cheer, there were bound to be some hungry mouths to feed. The Victorian Christmas dinner; turkey, goose, or roast beef; minced pie; Yorkshire and plum pudding; wassail; and eggnog. To aid in digestion, there were games like Shadow Buff, the Memory Game, Poker and Tongs, and the Minister’s Cat; there was also the ubiquitous sprig of mistletoe.

FatherChristmasThe custom of giving gifts on Christmas Day did not come about until the last few decades of the century; before that, England adhered to the old Roman tradition of waiting until New Year’s Day. When Christmas eventually became the day for gifts, it was England’s turn to borrow from America, whose Santa Clause became the model for the English Father Christmas.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Christmas was fully re-established as a holiday, steeped again in tradition and spirit. The Victorians had helped to mold a Christmas tradition that would forever alter the way Christmas was celebrated in England and America.

 (Jeffery, Yvonne, “The Everything Family Christmas Book”)

Garland1-1

Thanksgiving 2014

Thankful

There is so much trouble in the world today; across the sea with other countries and across our nation with our neighbors.  I have many feelings and comments I could express regarding Vladimir Putin, the craziness going on with the Michael Brown incident, and Obama. However, I will keep my comments to my self as they are brutally honest, direct, and some could consider them hurtful.  Sometimes truth hurts.  Nonetheless, I AM THANKFUL!

I am thankful that I live in America!  Although we have a country who is in turmoil and profusely bleeding, I believe America will regain her beauty and can heal from the torture and illness that has been imposed upon her.

I am thankful for my family.  States span between us but the miles cannot diminish our love for one another.  We will always be aunts, cousins, uncles, nephews, grandparents, nieces, and in-laws.  WE ARE FAMILY and for that I am thankful.

I am thankful for my kids!  God has blessed me with children who are kind, considerate, loving, compassionate, goofy, fun, vibrant, different, and genuine.  Whatever they choose to call me, I am honored to be their momma, mom, madre, ma, and mother.

I am thankful for all the friends who have come (and some gone) into or from my life and our relationships. Each one of them has left an impression, given me inspiration to do more, or encouraged me on some level.  I am who I am because of my family and friends, past and present.

I am thankful for my health.  As I near the big 5-0 mark in life, what I consider to be the TOP of the hill, I realize how I could have been worse for the wear on so many levels.  I thank God for my health.

I am thankful to live in a country where we will not be persecuted for proclaiming our faith and that many faiths are practiced.

I am thankful God has awoken my desire to share stories and our life’s adventures.

And, lastly…I am thankful for my supporters.  Thank you!

For what are you THANKFUL?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!